Byrd v. United States Explores the Expectation of Privacy for Unauthorized Property Users

On May 14, 2018 the Supreme Court of the United States made a decision regarding the appeal of petitioner Terrence Byrd. The case centered around the expectation of privacy that the petitioner, Terrence Byrd, had during a traffic stop that ultimately led to his arrest. Byrd’s case was based upon the protections offered by the Fourth Amendment that he believed should have prevented the arresting officers from searching his vehicle during his 2014 traffic stop. During his trial, Byrd attempted to suppress all of the evidence obtained during the initial stop because he claimed he did not actually agree to the stop and had a reasonable expectation of privacy, even though he was not an authorized user.

Case Background

In September of 2014 Latasha Reed, the mother of Terrence Byrd’s children, rented a car in the state of New Jersey. After paying for the car, signing the rental agreement, and obtaining the keys, Reed left the car rental company and immediately gave the keys to Byrd. Reed did not list Byrd as a spouse or authorized driver on the rental agreement. Eventually Byrd was stopped by Pennsylvania State Troopers near Harrisburg after he incorrectly passed a vehicle on the four-way highway.

During the traffic stop, after running Byrd’s identification, they discovered he had given them an alias and discovered that he had a warrant out in New Jersey. After contacting New Jersey to confirm extradition was not necessary, the officers instructed Byrd to exit the vehicle and questioned him about the contents of the vehicle. The officers requested Byrd’s permission to search the vehicle and while the officers claim Byrd gave consent, Byrd stated he did not authorize a search. A search of the vehicle’s trunk revealed body armor and 49 bricks of heroin.

The Question

Once Byrd’s case went to trial, the question of his right to privacy in the rental car was raised. Byrd believed that search violated his Fourth Amendment rights based on his lack of consent.  He also stated that the officers told him that his consent was never needed because his name was not on the rental agreement. Byrd maintained that his consent was required prior to the vehicle being searched because, as an occupant, he had an expectation of privacy. The district court determined that the initial traffic violation justified the stop and that the officers’ suspicion of criminal activity was reasonable.

Byrd appealed the decision and it was heard by the Supreme Court of the United States on May 14th. The court decided that because Byrd was not listed on the rental agreement, he was an unauthorized user of the vehicle and therefore had no expectation of privacy. The court believes that, like a car thief, a person who does not have authorization to use the property does not have the ability to expect the same level of privacy as the property’s lawful owner or user.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney

Unlawful searches and seizures can result in harsh sentences for those who do not have proper legal representation. Brassel Alexander, LLC are Maryland criminal attorneys who are able to provide the legal advice you need. Contact our office today to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case.

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